Blackhawk Engagement Solutions is a relatively new company. How would you describe what you do?
Blackhawk Engagement is the union of several industry leaders, providing customized incentive and engagement solutions for consumer rebates and promotions, employee rewards and recognition, indirect sales channel management and utility/energy-efficient programs.
We do it through innovative solutions, products, services, technology and thought leadership, partnering with many of the world’s leading brands.
We ask our clients whom they’d like to inspire. Then we develop strategies and tactics to help them achieve their business goals.
And prepaid reward cards are your main method of engagement?
Prepaid is central to much of what we do. We offer one of the broadest prepaid portfolios in the marketplace, with open-loop products, single-merchant gift cards and digital rewards, delivered on multiple networks. One of our chief differentiators is our patented DirectSpend® process, which allows the client to filter redemption to selected merchants to provide a particular reward experience. Another is offering a percentage of purchases back on the card at select retailers.
What are some of the trends you’re seeing in prepaid rewards right now?
When given a choice, people prefer prepaid cards as rewards. And that includes people you wouldn’t necessarily think would prefer prepaid cards. A national study we conducted found survey respondents overall preferred prepaid as a reward over other options by a large margin, but in one case, 45% chose a $500 prepaid card against 37% who chose a four-day, all-inclusive vacation. And that’s pretty amazing when you stop and think about it. Who turns down free vacation worth significantly more than an open-loop prepaid card? But that’s the appeal of prepaid rewards.
We also surveyed people on prepaid cards vs. digital prepaid codes, which we also offer. Cards were preferred by large margins, including surprisingly by millennials, who are considered digital natives. Yet they value the flexibility and security of plastic cards. So while I fully agree that we’re moving pretty rapidly toward a smartphone world, plastic isn’t going away anytime soon.
How is BES preparing its reward offerings for a future in which everyone owns a smartphone?
Obviously, millennials crave immediacy, and that demographic is driving everything now. But you know what? So does everyone else. Nothing fast can ever be fast enough. So we’ve put effort into developing a large selection of single-merchant eGift cards with more on the way. And we’ve developed virtual cards, open and filtered, that can be delivered and spent online. These products have proven very useful in consumer promotions, giving customers an immediate reward when they’ve completed an action, like a survey or test drive.
But there’s also an employee application. We have clients who reward their employees via reloadable prepaid cards — achieve something; receive funds on your card. This is an effective method, since it underscores motivational fundamentals like frequency and timeliness. A virtual card is even more immediate, since employees can be rewarded in the time it takes their manager to send an email. They can receive the reward and spend it without leaving their desk. Doesn’t get much more instant than that.
What else is BES working on?
We’re instantly delivering rewards of all kinds in-store, on phones, in homes and even on top of existing gift card balances. Anywhere an incentive can occur, we’re there with a relevant reward. Additionally, we’re using all the engagement touch points that occur during the process to further engage customers to spend more or do more with the brand.
For recycling industries, where stores need to keep large amounts of cash on hand, we’re replacing cash by loading prepaid cards at the counter, reducing safety issues and the laborious inefficiencies of writing checks.
We’re also extending this instant-issue functionality to the utility industries. Our research shows utility customers prefer prepaid as much as anyone else, so we developed a rebate platform, accessed via mobile phone, that they can use to get rebates near the time of purchase. For example, when they buy an energy-efficient, rebate-eligible air conditioning unit, the HVAC installer can submit the homeowner’s rebate on our proprietary mobile app. Instead of waiting weeks to receive a reward check, they’re handed a prepaid card which is funded right there on the spot.
So, really, we’ve got a foot in both camps. We’re fully committed to plastic prepaid, but we’re also on top of changes that are already occurring.
Statistics from the following research studies were cited in this interview:
The Happiness Study: An Employee Rewards & Recognition Study. Blackhawk Engagement Solutions conducted this national study in the spring of 2015 to identify the key components of employee happiness, and the particular role of reward and recognition programs in that happiness. The results reflect the responses of 1,851 adults, representing a wide cross-section of the US workforce.
Where It’s At: A Connected Shopper Study. Blackhawk Engagement Solutions conducted this national study in April 2015 to identify how and where consumers are using connected technologies to discover, filter and shop. The results reflect the responses of 2,608 adults, representing the general US population.
Millennials Disrupt Shopping: The New World of Connected Shopping. Results from two Blackhawk Engagement Solutions shopper studies were used for this report. The first study was conducted in April 2015, surveying 2,608 US adults. Results from 546 participants from the 18–29 age group were used for this report. Gift card and shopping app data was derived from an online national survey conducted in October 2015, surveying 2,500 adults representing the US population. The results from 500 participants from the 18–29 age group were used for this report. A total of 75 app options, plus the ability to write in, were included in the app study.